INDIAN PEAKS SPLENDOR: ARAPAHO PASS & LAKE DOROTHY

Trailhead: Fourth of July Trailhead (Buckingham Campground), Indian
Peaks Wilderness west of Nederland and Eldora. Starting elevation: 10,120
feet; Highest elevation on the hike: 12,070 feet


Route: Arapaho Pass Trail past Fourth of July Mine to Arapaho Pass,
then west on a faint trail to Lake Dorothy.

Total trip distance: About 7 miles.

Weather/trail conditions: Mid-July; trail mostly dry with several wet and
muddy sections. Mostly sunny skies and warm weather throughout the
day, with afternoon thunderstorms looming at the end of the hike.

"That wasn't so bad," I said as we pulled in to the Fourth of July Trailhead west of Nederland, Colorado. We had just driven about 5 miles on gravel roads west of Eldora, which to our delight were relatively wide and pothole-free. I was relieved that we had an uneventful drive to the trailhead, because I had convinced Tony and Sharon Coltvet of Eagle Grove, Iowa to join me for this hike, and I did not want them to be down on the hike before it even began. The Coltvets have been close family friends for over 30 years, and we have always especially enjoyed time shared in the Rockies. On this perfect July day, we would have a chance to enjoy the mountains in the spectacular setting of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

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Arapaho Pass Trailhead
The first section of trail to Arapaho Pass
I was captivated by the Arapaho Pass Trail within minutes of starting the hike. Unlike many trails that follow the bottom of a valley, this trail climbed along a ridge well above the valley floor. This allows hikers to get above the dense forest and enjoy the panorama of dramatic peaks along the trail. More importantly, the ridge was currently being traversed by countless small streams from snowmelt and runoff, feeding colorful meadows of July wildflowers. Thick stands of flowery meadows, often with flowers of ten or more different colors, flourished along the trail. The open views of Mount Neva and numerous unnamed peaks along the south end of the Indian Peaks Wilderness added to the beauty of the trail.

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Bistort
Wildflowers along the first mile of the trail
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Parry primrose
Subalpine larkspur
We continued toward Arapaho Pass, bypassing a side trail to Diamond Lake, and made our way toward the Fourth of July Mine. Other than one brief set of switchbacks, the Arapaho Pass Trail maintains a steady grade and heading as it climbs from 10,120 feet trailhead elevation to the 11,906 foot pass. For hikers that hate switchbacks, this trail is a dream come true. As we gained elevation, the forest below us began to thin out, and different species of wildflowers began to appear. The views of the surrounding peaks also became more dramatic as we hiked. After about one hour, we had reached the site of the abandoned Fourth of July Mine.

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Tony & Sharon Coltvet approach the 2 mile mark of the trail, through a damp meadow
Relics from the Fourth of July Mine, near a junction to the Arapaho Glacier Overlook
A few metal relics of the old mine remain behind, along with several scattered tailings. The remnants of the mining operations were a grim reminder that many sought profit from this beautiful place, but fortunately the profit was brief. As we passed the site, we noticed a tent pitched on top of the largest tailings pile, as the campers presumably hoped to prevent damage to fragile vegetation by setting up on the pile of small rocks. Beyond the mine relics, the trail continued its same heading toward Arapaho Pass, now a little over a mile to the west. Subalpine flowers now changed to tundra flowers, such as alpine sunflower and moss campion. After a steady ascent of the trail, we were soon at Arapaho Pass, welcomed by dramatic views from the Continental Divide.

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Satanta Peak and Caribou Lake
Looking north from Arapaho Pass
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Arapaho Pass, Continental Divide
Mount Neva from Arapaho Pass
We enjoyed warm sunshine and surprisingly calm breezes at the pass, stopping to refuel on water and snacks. The view to the north was incredible, with dramatic spires extending from South Arapaho Peak along and above the entire valley. Tearing ourselves away after about twenty minutes at the pass, we turned our attention to the faint path ascending the tundra slopes to the southwest. We had only to ascend this trail for about one-quarter mile to reach Lake Dorothy. Passing more beautiful stands of alpine wildflowers, we soon reached the lake.

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Alpine sunflowers, trail to Lake Dorothy
Mount Neva and Lake Dorothy
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12,061' Lake Dorothy
North & South Arapaho Peak, Lake Dorothy
Lake Dorothy, a large lake carved from barren rock and tundra slopes, is in a magnificent setting at the foot of Mount Neva. At 12,061 feet above sea level, it is the highest named lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area by several hundred feet. It is rare for a lake in northern Colorado to reach 11,700 feet or higher; in fact most famous lakes in the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park are between 9,000 and 11,000 feet. I was struck by the fact that I had just sat on the Continental Divide, then ascended to reach a lake, something that can rarely be done. Dorothy is only about a 7 mile round-trip hike, where many lakes this high are extremely remote. We enjoyed the setting as we sat along the northern shore of the lake for nearly an hour. After rejuvenating our feet with a brief soak in the frigid waters, we were heading back to the trailhead.

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Trail from Lake Dorothy to Arapaho Pass
Mount Neva from just below Arapaho Pass
The sunshine continued, although clouds were building above us and to the west. A massive storm was building momentum just north of Granby, but with our relatively short hike to the trailhead it appeared we would be safe. Our descent was under mostly sunny skies, while I watched the storm build dramatically to the west. Accentuated by the mid-day sun, the surrounding peaks and endless wildflowers burst forth with even more color on the return trip.

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Arapaho Pass Trail and junction with trail leading to Arapaho Glacier Overlook
Wildflowers along the Arapaho Pass Trail, with Mount Neva to the west
We were able to elude the storm, returning to the trailhead just minutes before sprinkles rained from the sky. By the time we reached Nederland, the storm was dumping hail and sheets of rain, as typically happens in a Colorado summer afternoon. We considered ourselves very fortunate to have avoided the weather, and that we could enjoy this spectacular hike under sunny skies. Based on our hike, none of us would hesitate to recommend this hike to anyone wanting to experience the beauty of the Colorado Rockies. The Arapaho Pass Trail is a great place to feel the spirit of this magnificent mountain range, and enjoy the splendor of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

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Tony & Sharon Coltvet at Lake Dorothy
I would like to extend gratitude to Tony & Sharon Coltvet for sharing this hike with
me, and for their valued friendship and hospitality over the years. I hope to hike
with them again soon, and also to enjoy a place as beautiful as the Arapaho Pass Trail.
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